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November 14, 2011
Discouraged for religious reasons from playing basketball, a young Jehovah's Witness who would soon be 7 feet tall had to decide whether to follow his mother's ardent beliefs or his own heart
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November 14, 2011

Dewayne Dedmon's Leap Of Faith

Discouraged for religious reasons from playing basketball, a young Jehovah's Witness who would soon be 7 feet tall had to decide whether to follow his mother's ardent beliefs or his own heart

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To get to Gail Lewis's house in southeast Palmdale, you drive down Highway 138, past the fish fry and the soul-food grocery store and the wig shop. A right turn takes you past vacant lots and condo complexes to Longhorn Pavilion Apartments, where 160 small units are encircled by a metal gate. Behind the complex the desert takes over again: Scrub brush and sand become rocky hills. Out front signs say NOW RENTING: LAUNDRY IN EVERY APARTMENT and placards near the office read future resident parking. Wet clothes hang from railings, dents are visible in the stucco walls, shirtless kids cluster in stairwells.

Gail's condo is up one flight. A brown leather-bound book titled Holy Scriptures sits on her kitchen table. On a wall there is a picture of the family when Dewayne was five years old, with round cheeks and a killer smile, dressed in a blue blazer. Gail welcomes a guest and offers bottled water. She is a tall, warm, pretty woman with a nice smile, and she flips her long hair when she talks. Though thin, she says she wishes she worked out more. She does not proselytize, at least not today.

She says she's trying to come to terms with Dewayne's life. It's been hard. The previous fall USC invited her down for a campus tour, and after many entreaties from the coaches she accepted. She'd never seen so many school buildings—"Gosh, they sure spend a lot of money on this school, all just for education," she says. She liked the coach, that bald man with glasses. He seemed nice, and he told her she could call any time.

There is good and bad. She's glad Dewayne is educating himself, especially since his classes will give him opportunities to make evening meetings. She's looked into it, and there are Kingdom Halls close to USC. Still, she wishes he told her more. Until a reporter called a few weeks earlier, she had no idea Dewayne was even playing in a summer league. "That is just blowing me away right now," she said then. "I wish my kids were still [young], back when they listened and did what you said. They get older and become independent and get a mind of their own."

Mother and son are on better terms now. Dewayne texts her occasionally, and they talk on the phone. She went to a couple of his games at AVC and plans on going down to USC when her schedule allows. When they talk, she reminds him of his Christian upbringing, and he says, "Mom, I think about it all the time."

"Maybe sometimes you need to act on your thinking," she replies.

She knows Dewayne might be drafted into the NBA, and she's concerned. "It would be kind of difficult, because you can't serve two masters," she says. "He would probably have to make a decision within himself. He thought he could do both, but obviously you can't."

If he decides to go to the NBA, she says, she will not stand in his way, though she hopes he will be like that one man, A.C. Green, the Lakers' forward who kept his morals and said he remained a virgin until he was married, in April 2002. For now, though, she holds out hope he will return to the fold. She tells Dewayne he has to want his faith just like he wants basketball, that he is like the prodigal son and just needs to find his way home. "I told him, 'You turned away from [your faith], but I'm gonna pray until you come back,' " she says. "I told him, 'I'm not gonna stop praying until you return.'"

Soon Gail ushers her visitor out the door, into the stifling heat of the Antelope Valley. Outside the gates of the complex the desert stretches out as far as the eye can see, hot and dry. In the cool room inside she returns to her reading, preparing for her next trip out into the community to talk to lost souls.

Gail Lewis truly believes it: Everyone can find his salvation.

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